Sansoucie v. Mesmer
MEMORANDUM. (See Full Memorandum.) For the reasons discussed herein, the Court concludes that petitioner has failed to establish that she is entitled to relief based on state court proceedings that were contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or based upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Petitioner has also failed to make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. Therefore, the Court will not issue a certificate of appealability. See Cox v. Norris, 133 F.3d 565, 569 (8th Cir. 1997). Signed by District Judge Carol E. Jackson on 9/2/2015. (CBL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
Case No. 4:12-CV-1531 (CEJ)
This matter is before the Court on the petition of Jennifer Sansoucie for a
writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The respondent has filed a
response in opposition. For the following reasons, the petition will be denied.
Petitioner Jennifer Sansoucie is presently incarcerated at the Women’s
Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center. On July 9, 2010, petitioner
pled guilty to second-degree murder, in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.021, firstdegree assault, in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.050, and two counts of firstdegree endangering the welfare of a child, in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 568.045.1
Resp. Ex. A at 17-21.
At the plea hearing, petitioner admitted that she had
suffocated her minor child S.L. and that she had injected her minor child E.L. with
insulin that was not prescribed for him in an attempt to cause serious physical
injury. Resp. Ex. A at 31-33. Petitioner had been initially charged with first-degree
murder, in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.020, in connection with S.L’s death.
Petitioner was originally charged with first-degree murder.
That charge, the penalties for which included a sentence of life imprisonment
without parole, was reduced to second-degree murder as part of the plea
See Mo .Rev. Stat. § 565.020.2 (“Murder in the first degree is a class
A felony, and the punishment shall be either death or imprisonment for life without
eligibility for probation or parole, or release except by act of the governor . . .”) On
July 22, 2010, petitioner was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment,
aggregating 25 years.
On December 2, 2010, petitioner filed a timely post-conviction pro se motion
to vacate, set aside or correct judgment pursuant to Missouri Rule 24.035.
motion was denied without an evidentiary hearing on March 17, 2011. On April 20,
2011, petitioner appealed the denial of her post-conviction motion to the Missouri
Court of Appeals, requesting a new trial or, in the alternative, an evidentiary
hearing. On March 12, 2012 the Missouri Court of Appeals summarily affirmed the
denial of post-conviction relief. Sansoucie v. State, 362 S.W.3d 486 (Mo. Ct. App.
2012). On August 22, 2012, petitioner timely filed this petition for relief pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
When a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings,
habeas relief is permissible under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), only if the state court’s determination:
resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an
unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in
the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d)(1)-(2).
A state court’s decision is “contrary to” clearly established law if “it applies a
rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court’s] cases, or
if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of
[the Supreme Court] but reaches a different result.”
Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S.
133, 141 (2005). “The state court need not cite or even be aware of the governing
Supreme Court cases, ‘so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the statecourt decision contradicts them.’” Brown v. Luebbers, 371 F.3d 458, 461 (8th Cir.
2004) (citing Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002)). “In the ‘contrary to’ analysis
of the state court’s decision, [the federal court’s] focus is on the result and any
reasoning that the court may have given; the absence of reasoning is not a barrier
to a denial of relief.” Id.
A decision involves an “unreasonable application” of clearly established law if
“the state court applies [the Supreme Court’s] precedents to the facts in an
objectively unreasonable manner,” Payton, 125 S. Ct. at 1439; Williams v. Taylor,
529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000), or “if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal
principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not
apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it
Id. at 406.
“Federal habeas relief is warranted only when the
refusal was ‘objectively unreasonable,’ not when it was merely erroneous or
incorrect.” Carter v. Kemna, 255 F.3d 589, 592 (8th Cir. 2001) (quoting Williams,
529 U.S. at 410-11).
In the three grounds for relief asserted in the petition, petitioner claims that
she was denied effective assistance of counsel. To prevail on a claim of ineffective
assistance of counsel, a habeas petitioner must show that his attorney’s
performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that he was
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).
respect to the first Strickland prong, there exists a strong presumption that
counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of professionally reasonable
assistance. Id. at 689. In order to establish prejudice, the petitioner “must show
that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors,
the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is
a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694. In the
context of a guilty plea, a habeas petitioner must show that there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and
would have insisted on going to trial.”
Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985).
The failure to show prejudice is dispositive, and a court need not address the
reasonableness of counsel’s performance in the absence of prejudice. United States
v. Apfel, 97 F.3d 1074, 1076 (8th Cir. 1996).
“Taken together, AEDPA and Strickland establish a ‘doubly deferential
standard’ of review.” Williams v. Roper, 695 F.3d 825, 831 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Cullen v. Pinholster, –––U.S. –––, 131 S. Ct. 1388, 1410 (2011)).
As the court
wrote in Williams:
First, under Strickland, the state court must make a predictive
judgment about the effect of the alleged deficiencies of counsel on the
outcome of the trial, focusing on whether it is “reasonably likely” that
the result would have been different absent the errors. Strickland, 466
U.S. at 696. . . To satisfy Strickland, the likelihood of a different result
must be “substantial, not just conceivable.” Id. Under AEDPA, [federal
courts] must then give substantial deference to the state court’s
predictive judgment. So long as the state court’s decision was not
“contrary to” clearly established law, the remaining question under the
“unreasonable application” clause of § 2254(d) is whether the state
court’s determination under the Strickland standard is unreasonable,
not merely whether it is incorrect. Harrington v. Richter, ––– U.S. –––,
131 S. Ct. 770, 792, 785 (2011). This standard was meant to be
difficult to meet, and “even a strong case for relief does not mean the
state court’s contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 786.
Id. at 831-32.
A. Ground One
In Ground One, petitioner alleges that defense counsel told her that if she
went to trial, she would be convicted of murder and receive a life sentence without
possibility of parole.
Petitioner asserts that defense counsel, by making this
statement, coerced petitioner into pleading guilty. Petitioner presented this claim
to the state courts in her postconviction motion. The claim was denied by both the
motion court and the appellate court.
The transcript of the guilty plea hearing reflects that petitioner stated under
oath that no one had threatened her or “in any way forced [her] to plead guilty
against [her] free will.” Resp. Ex. A. at p. 31.
She also stated that she understood
that she was giving up her right to a trial by pleading guilty.
Id. at p. 30.
Missouri Court of Appeals found that petitioners statements during the guilty plea
hearing “conclusively refute Movant’s claim that plea counsel threatened her to
get her to enter a plea of guilty or led her to believe that a plea was her only
option.” Resp. Ex. D at p. 4. The court further found that it was defense counsel’s
duty to inform petitioner of the possible adverse consequences of proceeding to
The state court’s conclusion that petitioner’s counsel did not coerce her into
pleading guilty was not contrary to and did not result from an unreasonable
application of federal law. A claim of attorney coercion is properly rejected when
contradicted by a defendant’s statements made to the court under oath.
States v. Harvey, 147 Fed. Appx. 627 (8th Cir. 2005) (“The record contradicts
Harvey’s contention that her guilty plea was coerced:
she was questioned about
her knowledge and the voluntariness of her plea by the district court, and she
confirmed that the plea was not forced and that she had read and discussed the
plea agreement with her counsel.”), citing Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74
(1977) (“Solemn declarations in open court carry a strong presumption of verity.”)
to Petitioner cannot establish that counsel’s performance was deficient because
“sound advice by counsel does not amount to coercion.” Kelly v. State, 866 S.W.2d
879, 881 (Mo. App. 1993) (citing Davis v. State, 754 S.W.2d 593, 594 (Mo. App.
Likewise, the state court’s decision that petitioner’s counsel was obligated to
tell her about the penalty she faced if convicted at trial was not contrary to and did
not involve an unreasonable application of federal law. But for the plea agreement,
petitioner faced a life sentence without parole if she were convicted of the original
first-degree murder charge.
Counsel cannot be deemed ineffective for truthfully
explaining the potential sentence the defendant faces. Furthermore, counsel was
obligated to inform petitioner of the plea offer and advise her whether or not to
accept it. Missouri v. Frye, 132 S. Ct. 1399, 1408 (2012).
“Under AEDPA, a state court must be granted a deference and latitude that
are not in operation in a case involving direct review under Strickland.
court’s determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so
long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree’ on the correctness of that decision.”
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado,
541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). The state courts correctly applied Strickland and found
no ineffectiveness on part of defense counsel. Petitioner is not entitled to relief on
the claim asserted in Ground One.
B. Ground Two
In Ground Two, petitioner alleges that defense counsel was ineffective by
refusing to have petitioner evaluated by an independent expert.
was arrested, the juvenile court of Jefferson County began proceedings to
terminate petitioner’s parental rights. At the court’s request, Dr. Warren Kass, a
licensed psychologist, conducted an evaluation of petitioner’s mental status.
Kass diagnosed petitioner as suffering from Munchausen by proxy. When petitioner
presented the claim in Ground Two to the state courts, she alleged that two
psychiatrists who evaluated her before Dr. Kass did not make a diagnosis of
Munchausen by proxy.
Petitioner argued that defense counsel should have
obtained an expert evaluation from Dr. Eric G. Mart, a psychologist, which would
likely have been consistent with the earlier evaluations and could have been used
to contradict Dr. Kass’s diagnosis.
The state courts rejected petitioner’s claim. The court of appeals found that
petitioner had not made the requisite showing that Dr. Mart’s expert testimony
would have benefited the defense. See Zink v. State, 278 S.W. 3d 170, 179 (Mo.
Banc 2009) (to prevail on an ineffective assistance claim based on failure to locate
and call an expert witness, the movant must show that (1) the expert witness
existed at the time of trial; (2) the witness could be located through reasonable
investigation; and (3) the witness’s testimony would have benefited the defense).
Dr. Mart did not examine petitioner; thus, whether he would have contradicted Dr.
Kass’s diagnosis is entirely speculative.
Even if Dr. Mart could have testified that
petitioner did not have Munchausen by proxy, such testimony would not have
provided a viable defense to the criminal charges.
In sum, the court found that
petitioner failed to show that the outcome of the proceedings would have been
different had defense counsel presented an evaluation from Dr. Mart. Id. at 180.
See also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694 (movant claiming ineffective assistance must
establish that, but for counsel’s errors, the result of the proceedings would have
The court finds that the state court’s conclusion on this claim was not
contrary to and did not result from an unreasonable application of federal law.
Petitioner is not entitled to relief on Ground Two.
C. Ground Three
In Ground Three, petitioner alleges that counsel withheld information about
Dr. Mart’s existence and about his willingness to testify on petitioner’s behalf.
court of appeals found that this claim was refuted by the record. In her amended
motion for postconviction relief, petitioner stated that she and defense counsel
discussed the issue of an independent evaluation before the guilty plea and
“counsel mentioned the name of Dr. Eric Mart.” Resp. Ex. A at p. 97. Petitioner
repeated this in her brief on appeal. Resp. Ex. B at p. 52. Further, when asked
during the guilty plea hearing whether there were any witnesses petitioner wanted
her lawyer to call or bring into court, petitioner responded “no.” Resp. Ex. A at p.
30. On review, the appeals court wrote that “continuing to plead guilty in the face
of knowledge of a potential expert witness indicates the plea is sufficiently
voluntary.” Resp. Ex. D at p. 6. (citing Evans v. State, 921 S.W2d 162, 165 (Mo.
App. W.D. 1996). Thus, the record shows that not only was petitioner aware of Dr.
Mart’s existence, but she failed to take the opportunity to avail herself of his
The court finds that the state court’s decision on this claim was not contrary
to and did not result from an unreasonable application of federal law.
not entitled to relief on Ground Three.
For the reasons discussed above, the Court concludes that petitioner has
failed to establish that she is entitled to relief based on state court proceedings that
were contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law,
or based upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence
presented in the state court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Petitioner has also
failed to make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.
Therefore, the Court will not issue a certificate of appealability. See Cox v. Norris,
133 F.3d 565, 569 (8th Cir. 1997).
CAROL E. JACKSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 2nd day of September, 2015.
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